In February 2021, Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, Michigan, held its first Annual MLK Jr. Writing Contest in honor of Black History Month. Students were asked to respond to the essential question, “Where do you stand in times of challenge and controversy?” This question was inspired by Dr. King’s own words: “The ultimate measure of a [person] is not where [they] stand in moments of comfort and convenience but where [they] stand at times of challenge and controversy.” Two students were chosen as winners.
By Mya Williams, Class of 2021
It is an undeniable fact that Martin Luther King Jr. was a brilliant speaker, activist and minister. Most of all, he was a courageous leader. He stood up for what was right, even when all the odds were stacked against him and when things were grueling. As the quote explains, anyone can stand up for the right thing when it is easy and convenient, but what matters is standing up when it isn’t easy. In this quote, Dr. King is calling on us to be leaders and step up to the plate, even when the going gets tough.
I am truly passionate about social justice, diversity and inclusion, and political awareness. I’m a firm believer in actively participating in the change you want to see in the world. The American Civil Liberties Union is one tool that I have utilized. I had the amazing opportunity to attend their Summer Institute. I learned more about social justice issues and how to make a difference in my community. Learning about issues that I am passionate about is a huge step in the direction of creating change. One of my most fulfilling public service activities was serving as an intern for a leader in my community. I interned for a candidate running for Canton Township Supervisor. I did phone banking and also delivered campaign literature. During the primaries and presidential debates, I noted each candidate, their stance on important issues and listed comments I agreed and disagreed with.
While others wondered why I wasted my time doing this and believed I was devoting too much time to such controversial topics, I had deep personal satisfaction knowing that I was educated on our potential future leaders. I was too young to vote, but it prepared me for the future and taught me how to practice making informed decisions. To bring about change, it is necessary to be informed and be an active participant. This is so meaningful to me because I believe that if you want something done, you have to go after it. If we aren’t fighting for change, then who will? And “if not now, when?”
Additionally, I consider myself an active participant in my school’s community. I hold several leadership positions that require me to stand up in times of challenge and controversy. As HRC co-chair (Human Relations Council), I plan important assemblies like the Black History Month Assembly, organize other diversity programs and encourage positive interactions within the school. While I thoroughly enjoy it, this kind of work can be controversial and challenging at times. Not everyone is ecstatic about learning about other cultures and how to appreciate our differences. However, in divisiveness, I remain true to what I know is right, and I know the importance of treating others with kindness, respecting others with different backgrounds, and most importantly, educating others instead of ignoring uninformed comments and beliefs. Although it can be contentious and uncomfortable, it is incredibly important to use your voice to speak up for what is right.
Beyond community service, leadership and school activities, I find that having genuine conversations with people is a great way to stand up in times of challenge and controversy. This past year has been difficult, and our nation has gone through everything from a pandemic to continuous racial unrest to political divisiveness. While many desire to shy away from these topics, I try my best to dive into them. I have seen many social media posts and heard many comments that have sparked me to react. I have engaged in countless candid conversations with friends about the issues that face our country and the world today. It can be extremely difficult talking to someone who has vastly different beliefs than you and even harmful ideologies. However, I find joy in these conversations. Knowing that I can change someone’s perspective on matters such as racism, police brutality, classism and so much more is powerful. I know that it can be extremely hard to speak up about these topics, but I encourage others to do it. Silence gets us nowhere, and to avoid being complicit, we must speak up, stand up and do everything we can to spark change in our society.